The second car problem: why it’s worse than you think (and how to fix it).

The second car problem: why it’s worse than you think (and how to fix it).

We need to change the way we think about car ownership if we want to kick the car habit.

Are one-car households a thing of the past?

Anne lives in Melbourne with her husband and two children. In many ways they’re a regular family. But they’re bucking the trend in at least one way – the family only owns one car.

“We’ve chosen, for financial and environmental reasons to only own one car. Mostly that’s all we need,” says Anne.

“But occasionally we need an additional car, while my family car is being used by my partner.”

Rather than buy a second car for those now-and-then occasions, Anne joined Car Next Door’s neighbour-to-neighbour car sharing network so that she could borrow cars from people in her neighbourhood.

“I was initially attracted by the price, but I also like the fact that it’s more personal than other car sharing options,” says Anne.

“I feel I get to know the owner, even though I never meet them. I also like that I’m contributing to their income a little. I think Car Next Door is a great idea.”

We're buying more cars, but they're being driven less.

One-car families like Anne’s are becoming less common in Australia’s major cities. The number of cars we own per household is growing steadily, while the number of no-car households declines. Our car population is growing faster than our human population, even though – surprisingly – we’re actually driving fewer kilometres per capita.

Problem solved? Not exactly. The slow decline in vehicle-kilometres travelled is welcome, but it’s not the solution.

The embodied emissions in a new car – that is, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing the car – typically exceed the tailpipe emissions over its lifetime. So even if your car is going nowhere, it’s having a big impact on the climate.

Why do we own so many cars?

A generation ago, families had one bathroom, one car, one TV, one fridge – if they had any at all. These days, we have have a TV in every bedroom, more bathrooms than people, an extra fridge in the garage, and a spare car in the driveway.

There are plenty of things that could explaining the explosion in the car population:

Cars are cheaper, relatively speaking, and household incomes are higher. The number of families where both partners work has increased. We’re more likely to chauffeur our children to school, and less likely to buy our groceries from the shop on the corner. Increasing traffic has made the roads less friendly for bikes and pedestrians. In many places, urban planners have (and still do) prioritised cars over other modes of transport.

With all of these factors in play, the road to a better transport system is likely to be a long one. But we can put the brakes on the increase in per-capita vehicle ownership and use right now through sharing the cars we’ve already got.

We know that our love affair with cars is polluting the air, congesting our cities, and destroying our health – but after decades of car-centric planning, it’s hard for many people to give up car use altogether.

Car sharing has emerged as an alternative to car ownership that lets people bridge the gap between complete car dependence and a car-free life. The City of Sydney commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of car sharing in 2012. The study found that a single shared car replaces up to 12 privately-owned cars.

“Traditional” car sharing – where cars are owned by a company and parked around the streets for members to rent by the hour or day – is now well-established in Sydney and Melbourne, with operators like GoGet, Flexicar and Green Share Car all offering car sharing services.

Neighbour-to-neighbour car sharing aims to provide the same solution as traditional car sharing platforms, but by using the wasted cars that are already clogging up our streets.

Car Next Door was created to bring car sharing to more people, in more places, and at a lower cost, than traditional car sharing.

“It makes sense, environmentally and financially, to get better use out of the cars that are already parked in our streets,” says Will Davies, Car Next Door’s CEO.

“So much energy and so many materials go into making a car – it’s crazy that most of them sit there unused for 90 per cent of the time, while right next door all of your neighbours have cars that also sit around idle.”

Car Next Door gives people the systems and technology to let them share cars with their neighbours. By making it easy and safe for people to share their cars, we hope to see a massive “de-car-ing” of Australian cities, and a huge drop in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with personal transport.

Making better use of the cars that are in our streets

Remember how Anne only occasionally needed a second car? Well on the other side of Melbourne, Kate, another mum with two young children and a busy schedule, was faced with the opposite problem to Anne’s. She had a car sitting in the driveway that she hardly ever used – but couldn’t give up altogether – and which was costing her family money.

“We keep the car for weekend trips and emergencies, but I only drive if I really need to,” says Kate. “I get around most days by bike or walking.”

Kate has a cargo bike that she uses to do the shopping and the school run, so she doesn’t use the car for day-to-day trips.

“I hate being stuck in traffic, and I hate the feeling that I’m polluting the air by driving. But mostly, I prefer to ride or walk because for me it’s a much easier, happier way to get around – whether I’m by myself or with my kids.”

Kate rents her car out to her neighbours through Car Next Door, and says that so far it’s been a positive experience.

“The money we get from sharing it helps to offset the costs of keeping the car,” says Kate. “And I really like the fact that it’s keeping the number of cars in the neighbourhood down. People who live near me don’t need to own a car just so that they can drive occasionally.”

"Sharing my car with my neighbours has been a great way to improve my financial position and reduce my carbon footprint. Plus, it just feels good.”

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